Today, California has the largest amount of illegal immigrants in the United States. Donald Trump wants to change that.
We were driving down East 14th when we saw them, herds of people, being loaded into cop cars like cattle. We were down the street from the Jack in the Box, where my father’s old coworker and friend worked. I immediately thought about him and his family he had left behind, whom depended on that corporate paycheck each month being sent home in order for his young brothers and sisters to be fed.
At my Grandfather’s 80th birthday, he was surrounded by elderly white people, all of which took great effort to mispronounce and make fun of our family name: Talamantes. My grandfather laughed along with them, but I could see the pain in his eyes, because it was a burden that all of us in my family share. Like many other Chicanos, my grandfather did everything in his power to erase any evidence of how he was Mexican. Unlike his family, he was raised speaking English. He never felt pride in the fact that my family once drove cattle over much of California, or that his Grandfather was the first person of color to be a constable in California, or that at one point much of the land these white people stepped upon belonged to his ancestors. To his friends, he was a white man, and he did everything he could to keep it that way.
California has a complicated history. After it was conquered, it was a part of New Spain, which encompassed all of Central America. The Spanish captured many Natives, many of whom my ancestors, and imprisoned them in missions where they converted them to Catholicism. The people of California were rancheros and vaqueros who drove cattle up and down our state’s great valleys. They were mixtures of Native, Spanish, and African blood, just like much of today’s Central Americans. After the United States won the Mexican-American war in 1848, Mexico was forced to surrender half of it’s land - including California - and slowly California’s Chicano population began to dwindle as the 49ers moved in.
Today, California has the largest amount of illegal immigrants in the United States. An estimated 2.4 million people work for the majority in blue collar jobs in which they work and repurpose the same soil that once belonged to their ancestors. They are mostly underpaid because they are not citizens and therefore are not required to receive minimum wage nor health benefits, making them extremely sought after in the agricultural industry (which California leads in production).
When Donald Trump talks about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, those who he says “bring drugs, crime, and [are] rapists,” I think about my Grandfather and his father’s before him. Each of whom watched as their land, culture, and pride was raped from white men who resembled Trump himself. I think about the people at my Grandfather’s birthday party mispronouncing my last name, the same last name which was once tied to miles of the land they now inhabit, and to the land’s precious natural resources they continue to take advantage of.
The real aliens to California have never been Mexican. They have always been white and they will always be white. Mexico is not pushing in like Trump insists, America is pushing out.
The fear mongering that Donald Trump reinforces is the same fear that has been pushed upon my Grandfather, and the same fear that keeps him from correcting those who mispronounce our last name. It is the fear that led him to marry a white woman; whose family disowned her, my father, and my uncle. It is the fear that teachers reinforce each time they teach a small child that their native language is incorrect and un-American. It is the fear that reinforces a generational cycle of erasure, depression, and internalized racism.
In reality Donald Trump, whose company most definitively has required the work of illegal immigrants, and his followers only speak fear because they are afraid of the Mexican people taking back what is rightfully ours.